Romans Lesson 29 - The Business of Whitewashing
The only way to be clean before God . . . is to come clean.
The Business Of Whitewashing
The Birmingham Newspaper Paper ran this rather shocking article in this past January 7 Sunday edition. The article headline read, “Worker dead at Desk for 5 days.” Executives are trying to work out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for 5 days before anyone asked if he was feeling okay. George Turklebaum, 51, had been employed as a proof-reader at a New York firm for 30 years, had an apparent heart attack in the open-plan office he shared with 23 other employees. He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked him why he was working on the weekend. George’s boss, Elliot Wachiaski said, “George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn’t say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself.” A post mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. (The article ended rather tongue in cheek by saying) You may want to give your co-workers a nudge every once in a while.
Everything looked right – he was at his desk, sitting upright, clothed, in his usual arena, surrounded by books, facing forward . . . he looked alive, but he was, in fact, dead.
It’s possible for the church to be a lot like this man. My purpose this morning is to give you all a good nudging.
One 1st century church received a letter saying, “You have a name for yourself, a reputation that you are alive . . . but I say to you that you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1)
In the Gospel of Matthew the Lord said to a group of people as He preached His famous sermon on the Mount,7:21. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23. And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you.
The Bible tells us in the Book of Ephesians that to be without Christ is to be spiritually dead. (chapter 2:1) Apart from Christ, the spirit has not been regenerated – made alive – brought to life by union with Christ.
From these passages we conclude that it is possible to be a church that looks alive and yet does not have the power of the Holy Spirit or the dynamic of eternally effective ministry. It is also possible to be a person who claims to be a Christian and even serves in the name of Christ, performing all sorts of miracles, and yet not have the power of Christ resonating in their hearts, but to be, in fact, spiritually deceived and spiritually unregenerate and eternally lost.
There has never been a day in the world where more people are religiously oriented than today.
Just about everybody has religion – everybody is claiming some form of God.
In America, Christianity has made seemingly incredible progress. Christian television, radio, music industries, publishing houses, educational institutions, mega churches and best sellers all seem to indicate that Christianity is a power to be reckoned with.
Yet George Gallup Jr. would write with biting reality the words, “Never before in the history of America has the church made so many inroads, while at the same time, making so little difference.”
How is it that the church now posts the same statistics of divorce, abortion, involvement in pre-marital sex, pornography and all sorts of sinful obsessions.
How is it that the church for centuries has called out with great clarity for the world to repent – yet in our generation, the church is in need of repenting as much as the world?!
It happens when, slowly, but surely, the reality of a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ can be relegated to the back stage and religion will take the spotlight.
Now there is such a thing as good religion. We sang the song, “Give me that old time religion” When I sing that I think of the religion that was, in fact, spiritual reality. It was centered on Christ – it lifted high the cross of Jesus Christ and warned of sin and judgment.
James wrote about pure religion that is undefiled as acts of service that reach out to the widow and the orphan – individuals in James day who could do nothing in return – they had no money to pay for what they received and they could do nothing in return.
If pure religion is related to acts of love, impure religion is related to acts of liturgy and ceremony. False religion caters to those who can pay for services.
If pure religion makes an internal difference in the heart of a person, then false religion cares only about externals and the reputation of a person.
False religion can be a mega church or a best selling book – while true religion may very well be a country chapel and dusty overlooked volumes of truth.
False religion has always been the enemy of the gospel. Around the world today, the obstacles to the gospel are not demonic attacks or political obstructions; the enemy to the gospel is organized religion.
The problem of religion is not new to us.
Turn in your Bibles to the Gospel by Luke and chapter 11.
37. Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee *asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. 38. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. 39. But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. 40. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? 41. But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you. 42. But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 43. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44. Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.” 45. One of the lawyers *said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” 46. But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
Back in verse 44 the Lord gave this scathing analogy to the religious professionals of His day. Look again, “For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
Now, this points us back to the Passover time when they would whitewash all of the tombstones. It was kind of a “clean up Jerusalem” act that was to beautify everything in preparation for the Passover when millions of Jews would flock to the city.
Part of the law required no contact with the dead – it was expanded to refer to contact with graves. And the problem, though, was that sometimes people would not be aware because this stone was not so observable as it should be.
A person would walk on it and become ceremonially defiled and unclean.
With all the people coming to Jerusalem, part of their custom before Passover was to whitewash all the headstones so they would stand out. In order to eliminate as much as possible the accidental defilement of an Israelite, all the headstones would be painted white so no one would accidentally walk across a grave.
In Matthew chapter 23 the Lord said even more specifically to the religionists of his day, 27. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. . . 33. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
So Jesus says, “You Pharisees are like whitewashed tombstones. You stand out and draw attention to yourselves – you look good and clean – but you do not represent vitality – you represent decay.
And people who look up to you and follow you don’t realize that, by being under your influence, by walking around you, by rubbing shoulders with you, they are touching death, and becoming truly defiled.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, the system of religion still is today, I believe, the greatest, most effective, most popular, most alluring path along the broad road that leads to hell.
Find organized religion anywhere in the world, and you will more than likely find the smell of death and decay.
Religion has always and will always be in the business of whitewashing; it changes nothing on the inside – it merely focuses on the outside.
I remember a few years ago in Vienna, Austria visiting St. Stephen’s cathedral. A magnificent cathedral that has been standing since the middle ages. Marsha and I were spending time with Duane and Sue Early, who had only recently left to serve the Lord as missionaries in Ukraine. The four of us had gone into the cathedral to stare at its immensity and grandeur. We eventually noticed a sign announcing a tour, near a set of stairs that led down underneath the floor. Duane and I were intrigued and decided to stay for the tour. The tour eventually began, and I was dumbfounded to realize that we were seeing things that went back to the times of Martin Luther, the monk who attempted to reform the Catholic church. Along one room were the coffins of former archbishops of Austria – the dates of their tenure written on their ancient caskets. We found the casket of the Archbishop who lived in the 1550’s and wondered aloud what he had said of his contemporary, the condemned reformer, Martin Luther. Then, we went deeper still underneath the cathedral into dimly lit rooms chiseled out of solid rock and gaped at huge cavernous rooms filled from floor to ceilings, 30 feet high, with human bones. I couldn’t believe we were being allowed to see this. The tour guide said, “Many of these bones were polished and stacked by enemies of the church – most of these deceased remains were from the black plague.” And I wondered how many Christians had spent their last years cleaning and stacking bones. When the tour was over, I stayed behind and cornered the guide, who was a college student from Vienna and I asked him, “Why did the church let people see that the ground underneath this cathedral is literally a grave yard.” He said casually, “Oh, St. Stephens is in need of repairs and the tour proceeds are going to help refurbish the appearance of the cathedral.” I thought, how ironic.
This medieval church was built and even now maintained, as it were, on dead men’s bones.
That’s the way of religion. Religion has a way of building monuments to hide its misery. It’s business is whitewashing sinners – making them look and feel better about themselves.
Say nothing of sin and depravity – just put on a couple of coats of Sunday go to meeting paint and that’ll do just fine. Say nothing of symptoms of spiritual life such and hunger and thirst for righteousness; repentance and a commitment to moral purity; say nothing of the demands of discipleship and the reformation of life and lips and heart and desires.
Just give me a hymn and a verse and a blessing and that’ll do for me – just a little whitewashing here and there where I’ve tarnished my coat of paint.
And the church today accommodates it. Church growth experts and church growth specialists are in great demand to consult the church on how to invest in everything from telemarketing strategies to entertainment schedules. How not to offend the unbeliever and how to market the church to the unsaved.
One author wrote, “Plainly declaring the truth of God’s word is regarded today as unsophisticated, offensive and utterly ineffective. We’re now told we can get better results by first amusing people or giving them success tips and pop-psychology, thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they’ll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.”
One well know mega church pastor made a new years resolution that revealed his deception by current trends when he wrote, “I will waste less time with long sermons and spend much more time preparing short ones,” he wrote, “people, I’ve discovered, will forgive even poor theology as long as they get out before noon.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that many a church within mainline denominations have steeples stretching toward heaven only to hide the fact that their doctrine is leading men to hell. It may have overflowing parking lots and pews, but death and decay and deception are it’s charter members.
I am so filled with indignation toward the enemy of the gospel – and the enemy of the gospel truth is not the world, it is religion.
Jesus Christ said to the religionists of his day what we can still say today both to organized religion and individual men and women, “You might say you have religion – you might look spiritually alive, you might do the works of religiously minded people, but you are self righteous and self-satisfied and self-confident and self-deceived and are following the road that leads to death.
You are involved in religion, but you are on the road to hell.
You are religious, but you are not redeemed.”
Well, that’s enough of an introduction. I have said all of this to prepare you for the audience to whom Paul now turns his attention.
In his letter to the people living in Rome, Italy – the place that, to this day, represents to millions of people, true religion with all of it’s ceremony and ritual and form, to this same city Paul addressed a religious group of people who also represented millions of others who claimed to have true religion with all it’s ceremony and ritual and form.
Paul will shock them and disturb them and upset them and, I am sure in his prayers, hopefully reveal them to themselves and by the grace of Yahweh, convert them to the way, the truth and the life, found only by faith in the work of Jesus Christ alone.
Somewhere around 10 or 11 centuries ago the church divided the Bible into chapters and verses. Most of the time they hit the nail on the head, other times, they missed the point. I believe this is one of those places where a new chapter should begin where Romans chapter 2 verse 17 begins. And I say that because Paul now begins to address his third audience.
You remember in chapter 1 he has addressed the immoral man; in chapter 2 he addresses the moral man and now, he shifts again and begins to address the religious man. From verse 17 of chapter 2 through the beginning portion of chapter 3 Paul condemns the religious man as being equally lost and in danger of the judgment of God as the immoral unbeliever of chapter 1 and the moral unbeliever in chapter 2.
Paul begins now to address the Jew – who was the epitome of religious confidence. Let’s face it, if anybody had every reason to feel secure in their standing before God, the faithful Jew would, right?
If anybody was going to get into heaven, and not have to worry so much about the judgment of God, it would be the faithful Jew.
Remember now that Paul was a Jew himself. In fact, he used to be a Pharisee – one of those religious men Christ condemned earlier. Paul knows how they think; he knows where they placed their confidence and he begins, under the brilliant inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to peel away their defenses.
There were 6 reasons Jews felt eternally safe before God.
The first reason Paul gives in verse 17. But if you bear the name “Jew,”
The faithful Jew felt safe because of, first of all, his special name “you bear the name Jew”.
We know from Biblical history that the Hebrew was first called a Jew in the Book of 2 Kings where we read the name, Judeans, or Jews. The name comes from the tribal name Judah. Judah and it’s shorter derivative, Jew, means “one who is praised.”
By the time of Christ they had turned their privilege into pride. The Rabbis taught statements such as these, “God loves Israel alone of all the nations of the earth. . .God will judge the Gentiles with one standard and the Jews with another. . .all Israelites will have a part in the world to come. . .Abraham sits beside the gates of hell and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go through.”
Paul will say in effect, “You can’t skip the Judgment of God just because you bear the name, Jew.”
I can’t imagine the horrifying realization of so many who stand before the Lord on that judgment day, according to Matthew 7, and say, “But we’re Christians!” We did everything in your name Jesus – and Jesus the Judge will say, “But you didn’t know me and I didn’t know you.”
Millions today in this country, I believe are Christian in name only. (it’s better than atheist or pagan or unbeliever – “Sure! I’m a Christian!”
Secondly, the faithful Jew felt safe because of their dedication to the law.
Paul writes, “But . . . you bear the name “Jew,’ and rely upon the Law.”
The word “rely” here, could be translated, ‘to rest upon, to lean upon, to depend on.”
The Jew had great pride in the fact that they had been given the law and they had given themselves to the law.
Their forefathers had received the Law from Yahweh. They had the Torah – the Books of Moses. The orthodox Jew would memorize most of the Torah. Every Pharisee in Paul’s day would have memorized huge sections of the law and the prophets.
How many today would say, “I know God is going to let me get into heaven because I have a copy of the Bible. I’ve memorized passages from it’s pages – I love my Bible, I lean upon my Bible, I rest in and depend upon my Bible.”
You are no more dedicated to your Bible than the Jew was to His Torah. And Paul here is telling the Jew that it wasn’t enough!
Thirdly, the faithful Jew not only felt safe because of his special name, and his dedication to the law, but his proud respect of God.
Paul wrote in verse 17 – “and you boast in God.”
A faithful Jew would never breath anything disrespectful of God. In fact, they never wrote the full name Yahweh – they would only write the Hebrew consonants. And only after stopping their writing or copying of the scriptures and going and washing their hands, coming back and picking up a brand new quill and then writing the consonants, and then throwing away the pen to never have it write anything other than the consonants of the name of their high and holy God.
They had incredible respect and pride in their God – they were not ashamed of Him. They boasted that he was there God and they were His people!
And you? Are you proud to be associated with Him? Do you bow your head to pray in a public place before a meal or are you embarrassed. Do you acknowledge on Monday that you were in church on Sunday. Are you ashamed to own Him as your God? Do you speak His name to others? No?
And you think you will get into heaven, when these Jews who wore Him like a banner of pride won’t get in either? How will you ever hope to get in?!
Fourth, the faithful Jew felt eternally safe because of his special knowledge
Paul says, “You bear the name Jew, and rely upon the Law, and boast in God . . now in verse 18, and you know His will.”
The word for “will” refers to the revealed will of God through the scriptures. Israel knew they had a covenant with God. They knew the roots of their heritage and what God intended for them to become – a blessing to all the nations of the world. They knew all about God’s will for them.
And maybe you say, “I know God has a plan for my life too – I know His will for me according to the Bible.”
And I would say, there is a vast difference between knowing His will and doing His will.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in another letter, “This is the will of God, that you abstain from fornication.” That is sexual relations outside of the marital bond. The church calls itself Christian and yet engages in the same level of fornication and adultery. In many cases divorce has become the justification for serial adultery and at the same time it says, “We are confident of heaven!”
Paul wrote in another Epistle to the Ephesians, “Do not let any impurity or greed even be named among you . . .” Anybody in here given to greed?
He writes, “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, but rather giving of thanks.” Anybody in here disobeying the will of God by not being thankful? By complaining instead?!
These are just a few passages that clearly tell us what the will of God is. Now let me ask you, “Does knowing the will of God give you a sense of security or a greater sense of fear?” It should give you a greater sense of fear! Why?
Because the more you know about the will of God the more you realize you’ve disobeyed it! The more you learn about the holy standard of God for your life, the more unholy you realize you are and how much of God’s judgment you truly deserve.
See how foolish it is to say, “I’m safe because I know God’s standard for my life.” No, the more you recognize His standard for holy living, the more you realize how unholy you are.
That’s all the revelation of the law can do for you. The revelation of His standards for living can only condemn. The law can’t redeem you – it can only reveal what a lawbreaker you are.
The faithful Jew felt safe because of his name, his dedication to the law; his proud respect for God; his special knowledge of God’s will and now:
5th, his keen insight.
Verse 18 goes on to report, “you approve the things that are essential.”
The word approve, dokimazw, means to examine or to approve after putting to the test.
The Jews prided themselves in testing everything. Examining philosophy and world views and determining those things that were truly essential for life.
They were sharp thinkers – they had spent generations dissecting and debating the law – they had commentaries on commentaries – teachers upon teachers, regulations upon regulations they felt were essential to pleasing God.
But they had missed the essential thing as Paul will eventually point out – they had failed to bring true glory to God.
The final thing the faithful Jew had that gave him his misguided false sense of safety was his Biblical education.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a danger of thinking that you are alright before God simply because you possess the truth.
The average person in church could imagine he is safe because he knows so much more about the Bible than the average man on the street. He has a half dozen Bibles in his home – in 3 or 4 different versions. The average Christian can find a verse for everything.
As one man said, “Trouble is, the average Christian is like a bad photograph, overexposed to the light and underdeveloped.”
The Jew said, “I’ve know the law – I’ve received an education in it, since childhood – my parents taught it to me when we sat down in the house and when we walked by the way and when we lay down at night and when we rose up in the morning. We bound them as signs on our hands and placards on our foreheads. We wrote them on the doorposts of our homes and on our gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
We’ve got a name – we’ve got the law – we follow the true God – we have insight and knowledge and a thoroughly Biblical education.”
And God said, in effect, “And you happen to be unknown to Me and lost and on that broad path that leads straight to hell!”
We’ll have to save the second section of our notes until next time, but for now, let me move to 3 brief statements of application and warning.
- It is possible for religious exercises to touch the mind and emotion of man without ever changing the heart of man.
- It is possible for a person to be emotionally moved by religion without every being spiritually awakened by the Redeemer.
- It is possible to be religious, but not redeemed.
A letter written to a Melbourne, Australia daily newspaper expressed it with uninhibited arrogance. A man wrote the editor, and it was published in the newspaper, “After hearing an evangelist preach on the radio, viewing him on television, and reading reports and letters concerning his mission, I am sick of the type of religion that insists my soul and everyone else’s needs saving. I have never felt that I was lost nor do I feel like I wallow in sin, although this preaching insists that I do. Give me a practical religion that teaches gentleness and tolerance, that acknowledges no barrier of doctrine, that teaches of goodness and not sin.” Note his closing words, “If, in order to save my soul, I must accept such a religion as I have recently heard, I prefer to remain damned forever.”
He may very well get his wish.
What do you want my friend? What kind of religion makes you comfortable? Do you understand now why you would rather have another coat of whitewash applied to your heart than admit your sin and guilt. But today you will say, “Lord, strip off all the whitewash – all the coats of religious go-to-meetin’-paint that I’ve put on over these years . . . take it all off – I stand exposed and guilty before you – my sin ever before me – my need for cleansing so apparent. Cleanse me by your shed blood – wash me and my heart will be whiter than snow.
Maybe today, you have a willingness to face the uncomfortable truth you’ve heard this morning and recognize that you and these faithful Jews Paul wrote to centuries ago, actually have a lot in common.
I invite you to set aside these things that give them, and you, false security and false hope and admit your utter need for Jesus Christ.
Today, while there is still time, repent of your sinful wretchedness and place your life in His Holy redeeming hands.
Give me that old time, religion, Give me that old time, religion,
Give me that old time, religion, It’s good enough for me.
It was good for Paul and Silas, It was good for Paul and Silas,
It was good for Paul and Silas, It’s good enough for me.
It will take us all to heaven, It will take us all to heaven,
It will take us all to heaven, It’s good enough for me . . .
So give me that old time religion, Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion, It’s good enough for me.
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